Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Gift of Fading Memory

There are occasions in our lives, when our emotions are so powerful, our pain so strong or our work so difficult, that we are certain we will remember it forever. Every detail is etched on our minds and hearts, and we know we could never forget.

We do remember for a while. And then the memory fades, allowing us to put the experience behind us - perhaps to even grow from it - and move on with our lives.

It's a blessing, really.

During one such time in my life, we were asked to temporarily host a ten year old boy with some serious issues. He stayed with us for three weeks before he had to be placed in the psychiatric ward of the hospital.

I don't remember a lot about those weeks. I don't think I want to. But I do remember that it was more physically and emotionally draining than I ever imagined it could be, and that it took a tremendous toll on everyone in the family and turned our lives upside-down.

I remember how I felt so sad that he ended up in the hospital despite all our efforts to keep him out; and at the same time, so relieved to have my life back.

And after it was all over, I remember telling a friend how this was the most difficult three weeks of my life.

Looking back, I don't know that it was. I've had other challenges that were at least as difficult, if not more so. But time passed. I forgot...and I healed. And those other things didn't seem so hard anymore.

With time, the same thing happened with this. I thought I'd never undertake anything like this ever again. But when I was recently asked to have a boy in my son's class stay with us for a few days, I agreed. The memories of that ordeal have faded, the hardships have dimmed. I can hardly remember why I found it so excruciating.

Meanwhile, those few days are stretching into weeks, and he's still with us.

It's a funny thing, the mind. 

The heart, too.

There are times I've been so hurt...in so much pain...I didn't know if I could ever heal.

But time passed. The hurt faded. And sometimes, when I look back, I almost can't remember what it was that hurt so intensely. Almost.

When that happens, I am finally able to judge favorably; to try to see things from another point of view. Maybe even forgive.

It's a blessing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

One Step At A Time

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.

I've been with the chevra kaddisha for a while, and there is very little that fazes me. I've seen a lot. And most of the time, I get down to work and do what I am there to do. It never becomes routine, and I never get used to seeing the pain that people suffer, but I can put my feelings aside while I get the job done.

Sometimes, though, I can see at first glance that it will be difficult, and for a minute, I get a feeling of dread. Only for a minute. The feeling quickly passes, as I start doing whatever needs to be done.

This time, I was prepared in advance. I knew it would be difficult. But I had no idea how difficult until I was there. I took one look, and I knew I couldn't do it.

I looked around at the women who were there with me. I was the most experienced of the group, and they were watching me and waiting for my direction. It was up to me to get them started, to tell them what needs to be done and how we were going to do it. They were counting on me.

"I can't do this," I told them. "I can't do it."

I saw the look in their eyes turn to panic. One woman removed her apron.

"It's impossible," she said. "She's just going to have to buried the way she is. There's nothing we can do."

I was tempted to agree. I felt so overwhelmed...I had no idea how to accomplish what needed to be done. I didn't know where to start. But I knew this was my responsibility.

"No," I said, sounding more confident than I felt. "We can do it. We have to do it. Let's get started."

Thinking about the whole process and the ultimate goal was daunting, but I could think about the first step. We could start with one step, and worry about the next step when that was done.

We could do it. One step at a time.

It's like life, kind of.

Sometimes I look at my life, and I'm overwhelmed. There are so many things I need to fix, so much to do, so much I want to be. I look at my role models, and I know that this is how I would like to be some day. But it's daunting. I don't know where to start. It's too hard. I just want to give up.

But I know I can do it. One step at a time.

This is a lesson of the Chanukah menorah. We light one small flame at a time, representing small steps, but we aspire to ultimately kindle all of the candles.

The ultimate goal may be drastic change, but it has to be accomplished taking one step at a time.

Monday, November 5, 2012

To Give Or Not To Give

I spent my day yesterday getting gas.

All day. Seven hours.

I didn't even come prepared. I didn't bring anything to do or read while I waited. I had no idea I would wait that long. Had I known, I would never have gotten on that line. I wasn't even that desperate for the gas.

So I had plenty of time to watch the people outside my window. I got to know the drivers of the cars around me. I watched how people who started the day smiling became irritable as the day wore on. I witnessed the fight that broke out when someone cut the line and patience was wearing thin. I observed the man two cars ahead of mine who got out and pushed his car every time the line inched forward so as not to use whatever gas he had, and who, after waiting five hours, chose to leave.

Then, about three hours into my wait, I watched a man and his little girl walk from car to car offering candy and chocolate. And suddenly, the mood lifted, and there were smiles. People got out of their cars and talked to other drivers.

One small act of kindness, so much light.

Why did he do it?

Last week, my son and his friends drove to Sea Gate, an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and helped some of the residents pack their belongings and load the trucks so they could leave.


Why did they leave their comfortable, dry yeshiva building to go help some people they didn't even know?

Why do we give?

In this week's parsha, Eliezer asks Rivka for some water from the well. She notices that he is leading a whole caravan of thirsty camels, and she voluntarily brings enough water for Eliezer and all of his camels. She had one motivation - to give to someone else with kindness.

Giving leads to caring. Every time we give, we invest ourselves in the lives of others and we become deeper and richer for it.

But the more we give, the more we care, and the more we open ourselves up to hurt.

The Chasam Sofer once did an enormous favor for someone, who later asked him, “What can I ever do to repay you for your kindness?” The Chasam Sofer replied, “One day, when you get upset and angry with me, please remember what I have done for you today. And, rather than pelting me with big rocks, please throw small stones instead.”

I don't give in order to receive. I don't give because I want the appreciation. A thank you can feel so rewarding, but it is not the reason I give.

But I am human.

I don't need the thank you, but when I am pelted with rocks, it hurts.

I sometimes think about protecting myself, about being more careful with how much I give and not opening myself up to hurt. I'm only human.

But...is this the kind of person I want to become? Is this who I want to be?

So when I find myself faced with the opportunity to do someone a favor, and a little voice inside me says, "She doesn't appreciate what you do for her," I won't listen and I will do it anyway. And when the voice says, "He will pelt you with big rocks," I won't listen and I will do it anyway.

When I have the opportunity to give, I will give.

I will do it because it is the right thing. And because that is the kind of human I want to be.